Lathan Warlick on the Near-Death Experience That Led to His Collaborative Country EP ‘My Way’

Lathan Warlick on the Near-Death Experience That Led to His Collaborative Country EP ‘My Way’

“I wasn’t really into trying to rap or do hip-hop or nothing like that because everybody in my neighborhood was doing it,” he tells Billboard. “I didn’t really want to jump into that.”

A near-death experience in 2011 that found Warlick staring down the barrel of a .45 caliber pistol led him down a new direction, spiritually and creatively.

After winning $1,400 in a talent show, Warlick and some friends celebrated in a nightclub, when his friend got into an altercation. Warlick swiftly ushered his friend to the exit, then turned and saw everyone fighting.

Outside the club, two men chased him, cornered him, and one pulled a gun. “My grandma always said if I was in a time of need, just call on God. That’s what I did,” Warlick recalls.

The man holding the firearm pulled the trigger. “The gun clicked,” Warlick recalls. The second man took the gun, determined to try again, when the lights from a nearby car flashed against the building. The gunmen fled.

“I felt God’s power then,” Warlick says. “That’s when I started seeking God more. I started making music not long after that. I wanted to do something that would get me away from the environment that I was in. That’s when [God] gave me the vision of ‘God, love, unity.’”

Warlick traded choreography for crafting rap verses and began posting videos of himself incorporating rap verses into pop songs such as Adele’s “Hello” and Justin Bieber’s “Holy.”

A tragedy brought Warlick to the attention of country artist Granger Smith. After Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, Warlick uploaded a video tribute, which caught Smith’s eye, and he invited Warlick to do a remix of his 2019 track, “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads.”

“I was just a hip-hop artist, so doing the whole country thing was definitely not something that I had thought about,” Warlick says. “I wanted to push the vision of ‘God, love, unity,’ but God showed me I had to go where unity can take place.”

Warlick says he and Granger struck up an instant connection, especially after he learned of Smith losing his 3-year old son, who drowned in 2019. “At the time, my son was the same age, so that’s when it really hit me,” Warlick says. “We weren’t even talking music at first.”

Wide Open Music founder and fellow Jackson native Ash Bowers also discovered Warlick via his video tributes, specifically, Warlick’s mix of Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved,” and signed him to a management deal. “I thought he was a great rapper and had a cool vibe about him, so I reached out,” says Bowers, who also manages Jimmie Allen and  Matt Stell.

For Warlick, the timing was perfect. “I went on a 40-day fast and on the 41st day, Ash’s email was in my inbox,” Warlick says. “Ash just wanted to help in any way he could.”

By August 2020, Warlick had signed with RECORDS Nashville/Columbia Music Nashville, shortly before Bowers began also running RECORDS’ Nashville office.  “There were some Christian labels that wanted me to get in their space, but it wasn’t the time,” Warlick says. “God was telling me, ‘Let’s go here,’ because I had to be a light in the dark world.”

A welder by trade, Warlick finally quit his eight-year job working at a railroad in December to focus on music full time. Warlick set up shop at Nashville’s South X Sea Studios to work on My Way with writing/production duo Blake Hubbard and Jarrod Ingram, who have worked with artists including rapper NF and are professionally known as The 720.

Warlick teamed with “God Made Girls” singer RaeLynn for the EP’s track “Roots,” a musical tribute to his mother, his wife and other influential women in his life. “RaeLynn brought the vibes, the energy,” he says. “It was important to include this because I feel like women nowadays don’t get the credit they deserve. We wanted to give the world something that can show strong, courageous women that just held it down during the hard times.”

RaeLynn, who is signed to FGL’s Round Here Records, is also co-writer on the Hubbard collaboration and EP’s title track. “We titled it My Way because it felt like this is me having it my way — the hip-hop thing, the country thing and the gospel thing,” Warlick says. “Tyler took me under his wing and wanted to be part of what I was doing. We wanted to make a fun song that people can vibe to.”

Hubbard connected Warlick with Lauren Alaina, and the two wrote the gospel-flavored “In His Hands.” “That was such a vibe when she came in,” he says. “She already had a way that she wanted to do the thing and then we just added to that.”

Warlick’s collaborations and amalgam of gospel, hip-hop and country seem tailor-made for the moment. The 14-times platinum success of the Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus collaboration “Old Town Road” still looms large. Plus, Carrie Underwood’s first gospel album, My Savior, soared to No. 1 on Top Country Albums and featured gospel titan CeCe Winans, while contemporary Christian star Chris Tomlin’s collaborative effort featured several country artists.

“To see any sort of unity is a breath of fresh air,” says Bowers, who heralds seeing country and rap music continuing to merge. “It’s kind of throwing it all in a blender and loving what’s coming out.”

For Warlick, he’s just showing the full range of his musical self on My Way. “Every song has a piece of me. I don’t know nobody who’s got hip-hop, gospel and a rap song, country, on one thing,” he says. “If you play the whole thing through, you’ve got Lathan.”